The city health department sprayed the Upper West Side with pesticide early Friday morning in an attempt to combat a growing rate of West Nile virus cases.
Fourteen human cases of West Nile virus have been confirmed this year in the city, six of them on the Upper West Side, according to the New York City Department of Health. In 2011, there were only 11 cases citywide for the entire year.
The health department sprayed an area ranging from West 97th Street to the north, West End Avenue to the west, West 58th Street to the south, and West Drive in Central Park to the east. It was the first time the Upper West Side has ever been sprayed for West Nile.
Health department spokesperson Alexandra Waldhorn said that the spraying started at 1 a.m. and ended by 3:30 a.m., and that the department didn’t anticipate any harm to the natural environment. The department said in a statement that it sprayed the pesticide from trucks, at a rate of 8.5 grams of the active ingredient per block.
Still, there were some concerns about the pesticide used, called Anvil 10 + 10. The pesticide contains piperonyl butoxide, which the EPA lists as a suspected carcinogen.
Although the department said in a statement that “when properly used, this product poses no significant risks to human health,” it urged people with asthma or other respiratory conditions to stay indoors, as exposure to the spray could be harmful. It also recommended that children’s toys and outdoor equipment be removed from outdoor areas during the spraying.
“I find it really troubling and problematic,” said Cathryn Swan, a member of a local group called the No Spray Coalition. “These are serious chemicals that people are being exposed to, and the more I look at it and revisit it, the more alarmed I’ve become. The more attention that can be brought, the better.”
Virginia Rauh, a professor at the Mailman School of Public Health, said in an email that “there are some questions about the safety of this chemical.”
“There are lots of unknowns about this chemical and not too much research yet,” Rauh said. She added, however, that the chemical would most likely “degrade rapidly in the external environment.”
“Given the risks associated with West Nile virus for some individuals, I assume that the Department of Health weighed the decision carefully,” she said.
Additionally, some locals were not convinced that the benefits of killing mosquitoes outweighed the potential environmental impact of the spraying.
“When you think of how many people die from the flu, the number of people actually getting West Nile virus is really small,” Swan said. “It’s weakening so many elements of the environment.”